BEYOND THE RING: The Role of Boxing in American Society by Jeffrey T. Sammons

BEYOND THE RING: The Role of Boxing in American Society

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An evocative overview that nonetheless fails to put the US fight game into a coherent cultural context. Focusing on the high-profile heavyweight division, Sammons (History/Rutgers) delivers a fast-paced account of the manly art in America, from John L. Sullivan's heyday through about 1980. Within this 100-year span, he offers capsule profiles of notable champions, e.g., Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey (whom the author deems overrated), Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, et al. Sammons also logs boxing's evolution from an outlaw sport to a big globe-girdling business, with ties to both organized crime and TV networks. Covered throughout is the persistent racism that sours so many nonwhite pugs on the sweet science, though, the author shows, it's an equal opportunity destroyer of over-the-hill talent. While Sammons retrieves some genuinely intriguing oddities from prizefighting's past, there's no real sting to most of his jabs. By way of example, he doesn't explore the apartheid-like aspects of the 1957-58 Ralph Dupas case in Louisiana. Nor does the author (a black man) play completely fair with all his subjects. IBC kingpin Jim Norris takes deservedly hard licks, as do Frankie Carbo, Blinky Palermo, and other hoodlums. By contrast, thuggish Sonny Liston is presented as a ""tragic figure,"" and Sammons pulls his punches when assessing contemporary monopolist Don King, a convicted felon. Almost lost in the shuffle as well is the fact that Ali's vaunted Supreme Court win (which allowed him to beat draft dodging charges) was at best a TKO. Equally exasperating are the author's hit-or-miss efforts to get beyond mere scene-setting to link the fight game to the greater world and large issues. The text, which includes illustrations (not seen), will do for boxing fans in search of a narrative rather than interpretive record, but those who want socioeconomic perspectives must look elsewhere. Among the possibilities are Michael T. Isenberg's John L. Sullivan and His America (p. 1713), Thomas Hauser's The Black Lights (1985), and, of course, A.J. Liebling's classic, The Sweet Science.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press